There are some actors that seem to be born for a specific role, a role that you just couldn’t imagine being played by anyone else. Whenever I think of Eddie Murphy, the first thing that springs to mind is his time spent as the wise-cracking Detroit detective Axel Foley.
It was a career-defining role for Murphy, which makes it all the more unbelievable that Beverly Hills Cop was written with Sylvester Stallone in mind. How different would that have been?!
I grew up with two older brothers so I had access to some action/comedy gems during my formative years. One such film was Beverly Hills Cop. Seeing this film and it’s sequels for the first time at an early age makes me look back on them with fondness. When I watch them now I’m instantly taken back to my youth, but I can see now what I couldn’t see then; that not all action movies need to be serious and unsentimental. Beverly Hills Cop showed me that they could be silly and amusing too.
Anyway, that’s enough of my longing for days of old, here’s my attempt at rearranging the Beverly Hills Cop movies from worst to first. Starting with …
#3 Beverly Hills Cop III
Unfortunately, this final film in the trilogy is by far the weakest. It has been shorn of most of the characters from the previous two films, and the plot feels particularly shallow.
The story this time around sees Foley following the trail of his boss’ killer, which somehow leads him to Wonder World, a cutesy Californian theme park. It fails to generate much interest as it seldom makes sense. It feels more like a collection of scenarios designed to shoehorn in the only actors that were willing to return to the series. For example, the “Survival Boutique” scene serves zero purpose besides giving Serge (Bronson Pinchot), a memorable character from the first film, an excuse to show his face. It’s half-arsed fan service and it feels completely unnecessary.
The absence of key characters from the previous films severely hamper Cop III. There’s no sign of Bogomil (Ronny Cox), and Taggart’s (John Ashton) absence is quickly brushed under the carpet with a forgettable retirement reference. Apparently, all cops spend their retirement on the putting green.
Cutting out characters is nothing new, but it only works when they are replaced with other interesting characters. There are no such replacements here. Even the always-enthusiastic Eddie Murphy seems uninterested. To be fair, it’s hard to squeeze any kind of entertainment out of such boring dialogue.
It’s a shame because I think there’s a lot more fun to be had with Foley and his uptight colleagues from the previous films. With this final entrant, it felt like the series had just fizzled out. With a better script and the missing characters, Beverly Hills Cop III could have ended the series on a high note. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
HIGHLIGHT: Foley rescues two kids from a malfunctioning ride.
#2 Beverly Hills Cop
Despite having a fairly unremarkable plot, the first Beverly Hills Cop is quite the charming affair. The entertainment value here comes mainly from the comedic charm of a youthful Eddie Murphy. While John Ashton and Judge Reinhold provide some accompanying sidekick shtick, it’s Murphy’s confidence and affability that keep the movie light and fun.
“Light” and “fun” aren’t words that could be used to describe the story, however. It’s surprisingly solemn, focusing on the death of Axel’s school friend in Detroit, and his subsequent investigation which leads him to the sun-baked streets of Beverly Hills. It’s not a particularly memorable tale, mostly due to the fact that it doesn’t really offer us anything that we haven’t seen before. It’s a bog-standard police drama, serious on paper but sprinkled with witty, light-hearted characters.
At times it’s a little disconcerting to see a surprisingly chipper Axel after the death of his long-time friend, and it can get pretty tiresome when you realise how inept most of the characters are, but Beverly Hills Cop works best when you ignore the minutiae. Focus instead on the easy-going charms of Murphy, snigger at the silly bickering between Ashton and Reinhold and I guarantee you’ll have a smile on your face when the credits roll.
HIGHLIGHT: The obligatory film-ending shootout.
#1 Beverly Hills Cop II
One of the main criticisms of the original Beverly Hills Cop was that it suffered from something of an identity crisis. There was a sense that it never truly knew what it wanted to be. It wasn’t funny enough to be considered a real comedy and it lacked the excitement required to be an action flick. It so desperately wanted to combine the two genres but struggled to maintain an even balance. So when Tony Scott took the directorial reigns for this second instalment, addressing this particular problem seemed to be his main priority.
Overall, the action in this superior sequel is punchier and the comedy is much more over the top. Admittedly, it still relies heavily on Eddie Murphy’s obvious talents, but when he’s on this kind of form it doesn’t detract from the film too much. The plot this time around may seem just as solemn as the first, but it’s presented in a way that’s much surer of its comedy moorings. Foley downs tools in Detroit to help Taggart and Rosewood catch the “Alphabet Bandit” – a criminal behind a string of high-profile heists – in Beverly Hills. The three cops follow a trail of laughably convenient clues until they discover the identities of the bandit and his cohorts.
The story is light, silly and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are moments of sincerity of course, but they are brief and kept to a minimum. In lightening the tone of the series, Tony Scott had allowed more breathing room for Foley, Taggart and Rosewood’s amusing shenanigans. Scott kept the successful components of the first film, embellished and added to them, and presented them with his signature kinetic flair. This is why, in my opinion, Beverly Hills Cop II is the best in the series.
Also, the soundtrack for this one is pure 1980s cheese and it’s bloody marvelous.
HIGHLIGHT: “Hey Rosewood, get some wheels…”
So there you have my take on the Beverly Hills Cop series. I had a lot of fun re-watching these films as I have fond memories of them from my childhood. In terms of comedy, they may have missed a few golden opportunities and they sometimes didn’t know what they were aiming for, but the series as a whole never failed to keep me entertained. Yes, even the last one!
So what do you think? Have I got this list all wrong? Are there any films that remind you of your childhood? Let me know in the comments below.